The Politics of Educational Accountability
Publication Year: 2011
Performance accountability has been the dominant trend in education policy reform since the 1970s. State and federal policies set standards for what students should learn; require students to take "high-stakes" tests to measure what they have learned; and then hold students, schools, and school districts accountable for their performance. The goal of these policies is to push public school districts to ensure that all students reach a common threshold of knowledge and skills.
High-Stakes Reform analyzes the political processes and historical context that led to the enactment of state-level education accountability policies across the country. It also situates the education accountability movement in the broader context of public administration research, emphasizing the relationships among equity, accountability, and intergovernmental relations. The book then focuses on three in-depth case studies of policy development in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Kathryn McDermott zeroes in on the most controversial and politically charged forms of state performance accountability sanctions, including graduation tests, direct state intervention in or closing of schools, and state takeovers of school districts.
Public debate casts performance accountability as either a cure for the problems of US public education or a destructive mistake. Kathryn McDermott expertly navigates both sides of the debate detailing why particular policies became popular, how the assumptions behind the policies influenced the forms they took, and what practitioners and scholars can learn from the successes and failures of education accountability policies.
Published by: Georgetown University Press
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This book and my third-grade son are approximately the same age, since James was born shortly after I sent my research proposal and application materials to the Advanced Studies Fellowship Program at Brown University. The program’s faculty and staff and the group of fellows all helped shape this project and provided a wonderful source of moral support. Thanks to Marguerite Clarke, Elizabeth DeBray, Kim Freeman, David Gamson, Nora ...
List of Abbreviations
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1 Scrutinizing Educational Performance
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The author and cartoonist Dr. Seuss, best known for creating the Cat in the Hat, once produced a commentary on public-sector accountability. In Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, he introduced readers to the predicament ...
2 Performance-Based Accountability
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Throughout the public sector in many countries, administrators and frontline workers have been under increasing pressure to demonstrate that their agencies are performing effectively. A vast academic literature analyzes the myriad forms of public-sector accountability and the reasons why these forms change and accumulate over time. A “new public management” has emphasized the results of government...
3 The Evolution of Educational Accountability
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The forms that accountability policies take—who is accountable to whom for what—depend on the larger political context in which the policies are situated. This context generates the “institutional conditions” and “expectations” identified by Romzek and Dubnick as the forces that shape accountability (1987). To get a sense of the institutional conditions and expectations that shape educational accountability, consider ...
4 Education Standards and Performance Accountability, 1970–2001
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By the 1970s U.S. public schools and the people who worked in them were enmeshed in multiple systems of accountability. However, discontent with the schools’ performance was mounting. Critics charged that excessive pressure for equity had crowded out attention to excellence in education. Economic dislocation inspired elected officials to link educational improvement with economic development strategies and to seek greater control over ...
5 Educational Performance Accountability in Three States
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Chapter 2 identified equity and intergovernmental relations as crucial is-sues for performance measurement and accountability. Chapters 3 and 4 surveyed how educational accountability has evolved in general, and how policymakers’ understanding of educational equity came to emphasize the attainment by all students of a threshold level of knowledge and skills. This conception of equity was at the foundation of the standards-based reform ...
6 Education Finance and Accountability in Massachusetts: “The Grand Bargain”
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On June 18, 1993, Gov. William Weld signed into law the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 (MERA). The signing ceremony marked the end of two years of debate over how to improve the finance and governance of public schools. A few days earlier, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had declared the state’s education finance system unconstitutional, and many school districts were in financial trouble. The press and the public thus paid ...
7 Accountability and Equity in New Jersey: “Where Home Rule Hasn’t Worked, the Legislature Must Do What Home Rule Has Not Done”
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In 1986 the New Jersey legislature began considering a set of bills that would make it the first state in the United States to be able to seize control of local school districts in cases of poor academic performance and bad management. Opponents of the bills claimed that they flew in the face of the state’s tradition of home rule. State board of education president John Klagholz countered this view with the assertion in the subtitle of this chapter, expressing state ...
8 Incrementalism and Local Control in Connecticut: “I’m Not Out Looking for Your Keys”
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In the spring of 1997 a bill that would place the Hartford Public Schools under direct state control sped through the Connecticut legislature. The original version of the bill would have given the state the power to intervene in any district that met a set of criteria for underperformance, but what reached the floor of the house and senate applied only to Hartford. At the time Connecticut Education Commissioner Ted Sergi said to the state’s school ...
9 Assessing Performance Accountability in Education
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As the historical account in chapter 3 showed, public schools in the United States have always experienced accountability pressures, beginning when the first board of education members dropped in to observe the first one-room school. Since the 1970s education accountability policies have emphasized measurement of what students have learned and have increased state and federal governments’ authority to hold schools accountable. Although this book ...
10 Lessons for Performance Measurement Research and Practice
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Performance measurement has been established longer in public education than in most other policy areas, and sanctions based on performance are especially extensive in public education. Thus, study of performance measurement in education can produce insights applicable to other policy areas. This chapter begins with a review of the main points from the review of performance accountability ...
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Page Count: 236
Publication Year: 2011
Series Title: Public Management and Change series
Series Editor Byline: